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       Burning Water
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             Page Three

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Subject: Ghosts...
From: patti keiper  
Date: Mon 2/6/2017 5:51 AM

Sarah Butler snuggled a little deeper into James Rockford's arms by the fire at her place.
Before them sat two untouched wine glasses, half full of chardonnay.  "I hate making
choices." she sighed, resting her head against Jim's shoulder.  

"I wasn't aware of you deciding anything past ordering a chili dog or two. With onions." he
said, burying his nose in the hair at the top of her head affectionately.

"Oh. Is my breath that bad?" she blushed.

Rockford grinned. "I can't tell. I ate onions, too." he chuckled, bending over to give her
a tender smooch on the lips to wipe away her discomforture.

Sarah tilted up her head. "That was nice." she smiled into his eyes from an inch away.
"Any more where that came from?"

Jim was zeroing in again on Sarah's mouth when the sharp tones of the EBS system on the
turned down TV set got their attention. They both broke off from their embrace and sat up
straight, paying attention.

"The emergency broadcast system's on alert in town? I wonder what for." Butler wondered,
getting up and setting their wine on a nearby dining room table.

"It's been a long time since I've heard one of these." said Jim.

Rockford turned up the volume. ##...borhoods south of Alameda Dam should evacuate
immediately. Strong southerly winds are driving flames out of the canyon and over
the ridge, directly into the city.##

Jim shot into action. "Sarah, Let's go grab a suitcase. I can help you pack anything you
need. You can stay with me until this entire mess is over, I live on the beach." he told her.

"I think I just might." Sarah said, glancing out the window into the darkness. "Look." she pointed.

A lurid orange line of fire, already tree tops tall, was lighting up the hillside about a fifth of a mile

"Can we still get out?" Jim asked, moving aside a curtain to study the road in front of her condo.

"I don't know. Both ways into town lead right into all of that." she frowned, getting quietly unnerved.

"Think it through." Jim said, gently grabbing her shoulders. "Do you recall any other alley or path
that might be an alternative escape route for us?"

"Under the telephone poles." Sarah, remembered, squeezing her eyes shut tight against the sight
of the approaching fire. "I see kids riding their bikes down there all of the time. It might be an access
road, but it's not paved."

"My Camaro can handle the dirt. Lord knows I've had plenty of practice. Let's go." Jim told her
snatching at her hand to yank her a little faster towards the master bedroom closet.
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Dr. Karen Overstreet was with Dr. Morton in a treatment room that had turned into
an emergency surgical intervention on a two month old baby. Mike and Karen were wearing
scrubs that were already soaked in front with sweat and dripping through their browband caps.

"Why isn't this a clear cut case?" Overstreet hissed with a touch of panic as she searched for
landmarks with her retractor and scalpel inside of the baby's chest through the pool of blood
being siphoned off by a nurse holding a vacuum tube.

Mike gave her encouragement. "There's no such thing, Karen. Trace along the interstitial
margin, the mediastinal mass should pop up when you press down on it. It'll give us better

"She was doing fine." Overstreet mumbled, concentrating so hard, her teeth hurt as she
clenched them. "Normal morning, ate well, no breathing distress symptoms, then poof!
Both of her lungs collapse and don't respond to reinflation by chest tube."

"Classic squamous cell tumor." Morton shrugged, helping her move the baby's trachea
aside to make room for her search. "Neonate lungs can fail like this even with small sized
benign growths." He glanced up at the baby's anesthesiologist. "What's her pressure?"

"50 and holding." the burly man reported. "Color's starting to slip though." he said, leaning
over the intubation respirator machine breathing for their tiny patient as he watched her
airway tube.

Morton barked at the surgical nurse nearest his tray of instruments. "More surfactant!
5ccs, I.T. The lungs walls are starting to adhere to each other already."

"Damned dry California air." cursed the tube doctor.

"Can't we moisten her oxygen?" Karen fretted, working faster.

"Good idea." Morton said, "Max?"

"Adding a neb." he promised, refitting the baby's breathing machine tubes with a hissing
humidifier chamber creating mist. "Can't do this long, or we'll have a drowning baby to
go along with just the non-breathing one."

Morton nodded. "Buying us time. We don't know how many holes she has yet here.
Everything's still too bloody."

"Infection caused perforations?" Karen guessed.

"Yes. She presented as septic very late in her ambulance run. Her paramedics almost lost

Overstreet felt a sudden lengthening of her thread that she had just knotted over
a lung hole.

"Necrotic tissue!" Karen shouted. "My suture's just torn through."

" Your 5.0 is correct. Grab into the pink edges, farther back. Pull together the healthy
edges around that foreign body." Morton ordered. "We'll dissect that out for biopsy later.
Do you see its purplish pink borders? This could be a malignancy."

"I sure hope not." Overstreet panted, getting unnerved by all of the audible alarms starting to
activate because of their tugging and pulling.  "Pressure?" she prompted their gas man.

"Forty five palpated and holding." the man replied. "EKG is tachy, but I'm still reading normal
sinus rhythm."

Dr. Morton sought to calm his fellow physician with the same lecturing voice he used
when Karen was a student under his rounds. "It's more than vaso vagal effects here, Karen.
Her hypotension is concomitant. Being this close to the vagus nerve like we are on the
bronchial tree is--"

A thin bright fountain of blood suddenly shot up, catching the two of them in the face
with its warm gore. Dr. Morton recovered first, his eyeglasses having saved him from
being blinded. Mike dropped his tools on the floor and buried both of his hands under the
lungs. "Pack this off! It's an aortic nick!" he ordered. "Use a clamp over it if you have to."

"I'll rush the cardiac team." another nurse said, fleeing for the red phone in the wall.

Karen fought a monstrous instinct to pull away and wipe her face free of the steaming blood.
She let a scrub nurse towel off the worst of it and clean her eyes. Then she began to stuff
sterile gauze squares by the handful around Dr. Morton's hands. "Did I do this?" she asked
in a trembling voice.

"No." Dr. Morton replied immediately. "The tumor was adhered to the vessel's wall through
the back of the lung. It was already tearing away. See the fresh scarring? It's about a month
old. Ugh.." he grunted with effort. "The mass feels a lot bigger than what we can see."

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"I've lost a pulse." Max announced evenly.

Dr. Morton stuck his finger in the hole. "Karen, start cardiac massage. Use just a
finger and a thumb. Go gently. Her heart's only the size of a walnut. I'll try and cauterize this
shut until the reconstruction team can get in here and repair it. This arrest is not
hypovolemic. It's because of vagal tickling. I saw a tumor root wrapped around
the vagus nerve. We might be able to still bring her back if it hasn't grown any
farther than that."

Karen sobbed her stress as she slipped nimble fingers under Morton's to begin her CPR.
No sooner had she begun soft work when a large upwelling of blood filled the baby's
chest, obscuring their view. Overstreet's mind went numb, she could feel the tumor
wrapped in a new place around the anterior lower end of the heart that was poking all
of the way through a ventricle. Already a split had parted tissue despite her careful efforts.
She lifted her hands away, and shreds of abnormal stringy tumor came away with them.
"It just fell apart! The tumor's eaten up her heart?!"  

"Karen.. Listen to me. This was a triple A caused by this cancer."
Dr. Morton said softly, not yet moving while the suction nurse cleared away their field.
"The soaring white cell blood counts, the arrythmias, all of the ectopic electrocardiograms we
saw. She was already in trouble from minute one after she awoke this morning. We had no
way of knowing how bad it really was, until now."

Overstreet fled the room, shedding her bloody gloves in horror. "She was only two months

"Karen?"  he tried once more. But then he had to pay attention to their patient.

In the end, there was no saving the baby. Morton finally called her time of death and
made the proper arrangements with admin, oncology, and the on-call chaplain for
the family.  

Twenty minutes later, after two overhead pages went unanswered, Morton realized that
Karen Overstreet was no longer in the building.


A fire communications officer jogged up to where Captain Craig Brice was
standing by the incident command table. "Personal phone call for you, sir." the
lieutenant reported.

"Who is it?" Craig wondered.

"It's a doctor, from Rampart, direct." he replied.

"I'd better answer that. It might be related to this canyon fire we're on." Brice
said, his eyebrows going up. "Lead the way."

He hand signalled his supporting Battalion Chief, Hank Stanley. "On-the-phone-for-two."
he gestured to the nearby hillside where he and his fellow chiefs were gathering.

Stanley got on the HT between them. ##10-4, Engine 51. It's okay. Go on ahead.
We're still setting up shop over here.##

Together, Brice and the comm hurried into the talk tent parked next to a line of
telephone poles that they had tapped into for land lines. The young lieutenant
pointed to one of the white phone receivers that was flashing on hold on
a table.

Brice picked it up. "This is Captain Craig Brice, L.A. County Fire Department Station 51."

The voice on the other end took him by surprise. It wasn't his girlfriend after all. It
was her boss. ##Hello, Brice. It's Dr. Morton. I'm not calling on business. This is
personal, pertaining to you. Can I talk freely? I know you're on scene.##

"Yes. I'm listening." Craig answered after a short glance around the bustling tent.

##It's about Karen Overstreet. I heard you two were together.##

"We are."

##Okay, then I'm barking up the right tree. I'm a bit concerned about her right now
because I think a case really got to her today."

Craig nodded to himself. "She's been under a bit of pressure to do really well. She admires
you in particular, Doctor Morton. What was the situation?"

##A baby. We lost her after cracking into her chest to handle a double pneumothorax. It was
especially bad because the baby died while Karen and I were operating on her.##

"A child call's rough any way you slice it. Especially if that's what you were doing." Craig
grimaced, sympathizing. "I get upset, too, even as a ten year paramedic, when kids die
in my arms. I can't imagine what it must be like being a new doctor like Karen is. You guys
have loads more responsibility to carry on your shoulders than I do. Way more than just a
fire captain's."

##No, no, Craig, you don't understand. Hers is probably more than a little private locker
room destroying grief tantrum. She left work rather suddenly. She didn't tell her receptionist
where she was going. She's not answering at home, and security reports that her car's still
parked here at Rampart.## Morton shared. ##I'm just being a good friend here. Something's
definitely not right about how she reacted today.##

Brice's stomach sank into his boots. All of the memories came flooding back. "I... know what
happened, Dr. Morton. You see, we.... lost a pregnancy a few months ago. It was a pretty
straight forward miscarriage. I ...probably handled it better emotionally than she did because
of my Asperger's. I just can't feel things as deeply as regular folks do."

##Your traits make you focused, Craig. A bit OCD at times, but you're manageable. It's part
of what makes you such a good paramedic. Now I understand. If Karen's still grieving the loss
of your child so strongly...##

"....then this might be a crisis situation going on." Brice admitted. "She's rather sensitive.
It's... why I fell in love with her. Thank you for calling, Dr. Morton. I'll handle it."

##Anytime. I consider Karen as being part of my immediate family, despite us being just
coworkers.## the African American physician said. ##Find her fast.##

"I will." Brice promised.
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From: Patti Keiper <>
Date: Mon 2/20/2017 2:38 PM
Subject: The Wind Up....

Rampart Hospital was gearing up into brush fire stand by mode.  Dr.
Morton was in a meeting with Dr. Early, Dixie McCall and Dr. Brackett
in Kel's office.

"Are we set?" Brackett asked the head E.R. nurse.

Dixie nodded her head. "Fifteen extra staff, plus two additional doctors
from Mt. Sinai, and the night chaplain's already checked in. Supplies are
doubled. Two general surgeons are on emergency on-call in-house."

"Okay, good. Joe?"

Early added more. "I've learned from the fire department dispatchers
that most of the county paramedics are at the fire. L.A. City will be
handling anything routine or freeway related by us until they become
available again and are back in service locally."

"How long might that be? I like our own paramedics far better." Brackett
said, being brutally honest.

It only made the others smile with amusement at that bias assessment.
Everybody knew the state exams now cranked out equally proficient EMS
providers no matter which originating agency sent some, to train.  

"No one's provided an answer to that yet." chipped in Dr. Morton.
"The Santa Anas are picking up this weekend and according to the
news, it's whipped up a burn the size of an entire canyon around a dam."

Kel frowned, a cheek muscle twitching. "And we already know about
one casualty today."

Mike Morton inwardly startled, even though his face on the outside
remained passive. He had not told the others about Karen's break
down over their lost infant aged patient. He was planning on giving her
some time to come back to work on her own before anyone in
administration found out that he had actually been covering for her
cases all evening.

But it wasn't about Karen Overstreet. Kel Brackett spoke about
the police finding a dead body near a gas can in a house destroyed by a
suspected pair of arsonists. Only one of them remained at large in the
fire area based on tracker dog activity.

McCall's expression hardened. "At least one of them had the common
decency to pay the ultimate price for destroying all that land. Isn't that
near Johnny's place?"

"His is still safe and upwind. It's one canyon over to the east." Joe Early

"That's a relief." Dixie sighed. "This still can't be fun for him watching the
fire spread out of control."

Early shrugged. "No different than the rainy season when the secondary
sluice way is utilized to keep that dam and reservoir from overflowing."

"I guess. Now you see why I rent an apartment. There's less worrying
involved." McCall said with exasperation.

The other three doctors laughed at their resident mother hen. Early
chortled. "Except for the high cost of living in California."

Kel looked up from his notes. "Before we get started on our emergency
shifts, is there anything else we haven't covered?"

Morton kept his own counsel despite the urge to mention Overstreet's
faux pas.

"Okay, we're done. Let's hope this night's business is short and sweet."
Brackett concluded, wrapping up.

Mike nodded in agreement and then left for the E.R. floor with Joe and
Dixie leading the way.  He remained lost in thought as he sat down at the ready desk.

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Jim Rockford spun the steering wheel sharply to the left and right around
poles as he and Sara Butler escaped the neighborhood by following along
the fire break underneath the canyon's power lines. The air was thick with
heavy smoke in the darkness. But seeing wasn't a problem. Small fires were
erupting in the scrub around them as they sped by.   The ride was very

Butler cried out as her shoulder impacted the side window once again when
the front end went over a rock.

"Sorry.." Rockford said again for the tenth time. "Didn't see that one in

"Quit apologizing. Aren't we fleeing for our lives here?" she joked tensely,
gripping the dashboard of Rockford's gold Camaro tightly.

"Not yet." said Jim, eyeing up the huge fire behind them in the rear view mirror.
"So far, the wind's being our best friend.  Here's the bottom of the hill. Do I go
right? Or left?"

Sara hesitated, pulling her hair back around her ears, coughing. "I don't know.
I think town is that way!" she said, pointing to the left. "I've never been down
in the canyon like this before. Everything looks so different."

Jim hung an immediate left onto a gravel road. "This is heading back into the
main fire, I think." he said, driving fast.

"Yes, but we can meet up with a fire truck or something, can't we? They never
go in unless there's a way out first."  Sara reasoned, still frightened at the
wildfire spitting embers around the car. "They'll tell us how."

"Now that's what I call using your noggin. We'll do it your way." Jim grinned
openly, blinking his smoke stinging eyes gamely. "Keep your eyes peeled for
flashing lights!"

The car lurched as Jim avoided burning debris landing on the road in front of

Just as suddenly, they intersected with the main drag in town along a row
of closed business shops.  "Whoa, we're here!" Jim shouted
spinning the car to a screeching, lengthwise halt in front of an electronics
store full of active on-the-air TVs in the front windows. Every one of them
was displaying a live news report of the brush fire bearing down on the town
from the lower canyon next to them.

ONE DEAD. ## the headlines declared in bold white print.

Frozen at the sight, Jim and Sara read the scrolling text at the bottom of all
of the broadcasts. "Shots fired? What?" he asked, swivelling his head around.

"Is that why there's no one fire department here?" Butler wondered.

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A loud pop rang out and a hole opened up in the front windshield between them.

"Get down!" Rockford ordered, pushing Sara's head lower than the windows as
his foot slammed down on the accelerator pedal.  The Camaro shot high
columns of tire smoke as it jolted into high speed and away from the shop.
He flicked off their car headlights to further confound targeting. "Someone's
shooting at us!"

Simultaneously, Jim reached around Sara, and pulled a gun out of his
glove compartment over her lap right in front of her already wide open, terrified

"You've got a--?!"

"For instant protection against crackpots like this? Yes! I'm a private eye
who's licensed to kill in self defense at the drop of a hat." he rattled off in
irritation as he continued to drive in violent evasive zig zags down the main
drag. "And I really don't appreciate it being my hat getting shot off first!" he
winced, keeping low as he drove, holding his revolver muzzle up in the air with
the safety still on.

A huge glinting object suddenly roared up from the canyon on their left and
immediately swerved into their path right in front of their bumper. Rockford laid
on the brakes and narrowly avoided hitting two blood streaked horses hitched to
an upside down and dragging antique red and chrome colored, steam powered
fire engine bouncing violently behind their panicked hooves.

"Oh, Jim!" Sara cried out in horror.

"Has the world gone entirely ape sh*t crazy today?!" Jim snapped, getting angry
at the sight. His keen eyes didn't miss the bullet hole wound gushing blood out
of the black horse's mangled ear. "Now who'd shoot a h--? Not going to stick around
to figure that one out. We're getting under cover! Real thick!" he promised. "Here,
hold this." he said, thrusting the gun into Sara's shaky hands. "Keep the muzzle
pointed at the roof!" He jerked their car in the direction the horses had come from
and their tires sank immediately into a wide open, fire free, dirt lane leading up and
entirely out of the burning canyon. "Ah, Perfect!  A way out.."

Sara's cool eventually came back as the sight of flames receded into the distance
as their elevation got higher and higher. Her eyes never left the tip of the revolver
as she locked her fingers around it to keep it steady and aimed away from their
heads. "Tell me the safety's on.. I hate guns!"" she gasped.

"Oh.. I''m so sorry, Sara. Heh. Yes it is. You can relax a bit more. No sniper tech
known to mankind can see us now. This whole mountain's got us cloaked in pitch

Butler almost choked, thinking back to the moment the bullet sang past her ear.
"That was the arsonist!"

"You saw the ticker memo on the news. Same as I did. Most likely, it sure as hell
was. Lousy luck we're having on our date so far." Jim puffed, rolling down their
windows so fresh air could clear away some of the smoke from the inside of the
car.  He finally slowed their speed to cut down on their vehicle noises and popping
rocks as they drove over the gravel road.

"I can use a little bit less of the death part in this life or death adventure, Jim."
she fervently wished.

"Me, too. Working on it." he promised, eyeing up the treeline all around them and
an approaching barn near a turn just ahead of them.

Rockford squinted, studying the view forward carefully out through the bullet hole
cracked windshield. "Uh, oh." he grunted, not daring to swipe dripping sweat out
of his eyes. A darker form on the road under the open sky backlit by the distant
blaze nagged at their night vision.  Rockford creeped to a halt and turned off the
ignition about fifty feet away.

Sara gaped. "Is that a body?"

"Looks like one to me. A man." Rockford said, "I'm going to go out there. Poor
bloke might still be alive. Not going to just drive away. You know how to shoot
at all?"

"A little. A rifle of my grandpa's. Once. When I was eight." she trickled self

"Good enough. It's yours. Cocks into active just the same as that rifle memory
of yours. Do it now and guard me while I check for a pulse. Shoot the guy first
and ask questions later if he makes any kind of a move on me."

"Boy aren't you the trusting soul." Sara grinned, fear making her giggly.

"I've seen ruses before. If you want total honesty, I did time once, Sara."

"So did I, so we're even, Mr. Rockford." Butler fired back. Then she aimed her
gun at the figure on the ground. "I'm ready when you are."
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Battalion Chief Stanley pulled up at the Command Post set up on the upwind ridge overlooking
the active fire zone below. He parked his red Battalion Chief's car at the corner of an
intersection of park roads so he'd have the option of two escape routes should the wind turn
on the fire companies responding to the arsonist's blaze. It was true canyon dam country,. Tall
torrey pines and rhododendron thickets, surrounded the hill ringed reservoir.

And those were providing the fuel to feed a blazing inferno to red hot intensity.

Hank eyed up the conflagration which was beginning to dance with red devils and crown fires.
His practiced eye noticed a telltale glint of magnifying light refraction in the climbing flames.
His heightened attention perked up even tighter. ::There's no oxygen down there to breathe.::
he realized with certainty. He put out an advisement to the teams that would be working under
him from Stations 10, 8, 29, and 51. ::Brush Crew Team Beta, this is Battalion Five. Watch
your flanking approach and keep wearing your air bottles. That leading edge is under vacuum
conditions. When fanning spray or cutting a line, keep your distance to a minimum of one
hundred yards."  he ordered. "I want everybody on twenty minute rotations. Six in the fire,
fourteen minutes rotated out to rehab for a condition check with DeSoto and a fresh bottle

Stanley nodded when he heard his four companies affirm their acknowledging replies.
To live up to his own order, he dragged out a SCBA set and set the air bottle standing
up right on the hood of his car while he donned its mask. He began to read the fire's
smoke.  Hank saw that its base was a sooty muted gray and tan. ::Burning minerals in
the soil and scorching dry grasses. It's gonna throw up a spark plume any minute now
and start spreading even farther up the downwind canyon incline.:: Stanley shouted.
"Engine 9, Engine 8! Attack the center pocket of flames with a fanning spray. Don't let
those embers rise any higher!"

Battalion Five saw those twelve men coordinate and create a half circle arc bow of
water between their two ladder bucket nozzles and push it forward as they moved down
the road towards the brightest fire.

In triage, Roy DeSoto looked at his watch. ::It's almost nine p.m. I wonder where Stoker
and Gage are. It can't take this long to exercise a pair of horses. They left from the station
four hours ago.::

The little nagging voice inside of his head sank down about two feet to
the pit of his stomach and began to chew.
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From: Patti Keiper <>
Date: Tue 4/18/2017 11:58 AM
Subject: Fire and Blood

Craig Brice's mind wasn't entirely on his job at the command post. Not since Dr. Morton's news
that Karen had fled the hospital following the death of a baby under their care. ::Why did she do
that? She's a good doctor..She--...:: Craig choked off the thought abruptly as he remembered a
painful month that they had shared earlier in the spring.  ::... she would have made a good
mother.:: The loss of their two month old pregnancy had almost torn them apart. Both
he and Karen dove into their careers and work with a passion following the experience to heal
their unexpectedly very painful grief. It had worked for Craig. Today shredded his veneer of control
to learn that Karen was sinking emotionally a possible point of crisis. On an impulse, he moved
over to the communications table perched in the open air on the hillside overlooking the brush fire,
and called home.

But there came no answer. Brice let the phone ring and ring on to no avail. Very soon, for the first
time ever, he began to panic.


Chet Kelly ran up to his new captain, from Engine 51. "Cap," he hailed Brice, "Marco and I have
topped off on everything, the water tank, our air bottles. We've got six extra oxygen cylinders,
and a dozen burn packs from Supply. Also, uh... It's eight o'clock and there's still no sign of Mike or
Johnny. Don't know what's going on there. They told us they'd be done exercising and feeding those
fire horses of Rocky's by six. Has any one heard from them yet?"  he gestured to the land line
phone and cord Brice still had in his hand, hopefully.

Craig snapped out of his deeply hidden frantic worry for Karen and hung up the receiver he had
been holding in a death grip. "Sorry, Mr. Kelly. This call... uh...wasn't to them. Mr. Stoker and
Mr. Gage are two hours overdue?"

"Nobody's seen a hide nor hair of them at Accountability, and I'm sure they heard the same
orders we did on when to show up for this fire assignment over the radio." he replied.

"Okay, thanks. Why don't you and Mr. Lopez go help Eight's stock up while we wait? I'll go
put out a page for our two through L.A.over HT to find out what the hold up is."

Chet smiled in amusement. "Never thought I'd ever see the day where two of ours were tardy
for anything brush fire."

Brice offered up a neutral wave at Kelly as the Irish fireman left to go collect Marco to bring
him up to speed on their new orders. As soon as his men were out of sight, Craig got on
the radio over the Battalions' on private band. "Engine 51 to Battalion.."  ::Damn! What's Henry
Stanley's new chief's number again?::  His glance down at his own fretting fingers answered
his question. "Five.." he added, letting go of the push to talk button "... like fingers on a hand."
he murmured, finally remembering.

Chief Stanley replied promptly. Craig Brice quickly began to tell him his new fear, out of love for

##Stop right there. See me in person? I'm just down the road.## Stanley said, offering him the
option of more privacy.

Brice hurried over to a cruising red battalion car he could see coming in his direction that briefly
flashed its top light.

Craig only had to talk for a few seconds as they met and talked over the roof of the car.. Hank
got to the root of the problem right away. "And you're sure this is an emergency concerning her
recent odd behavior?" he asked.

"I,... ah,.. yes." said Brice with a touch of embarrassment. "She was diagnosed with a
hormonal imbalance similiar to post partum depression right after our miscarriage. I think she
blames herself for losing the baby, even though nothing specific was ever pinpointed directly
that might have led to it. She would be answering if she was okay, Mr. Stanley."

"Knowing what I know about Karen's normal routines, I'd have to agree." Hank nodded. "I
remember how tenacious she was training with Roy and Johnny a few years ago. And training
surgical rounds at Rampart's the same kind of bull-dog-on-a-bone interest route for her. She
can't be fine running from those. All right. This is what I'll do. I'll spring Roy free to handle a
still alarm to your residence. I'll grab one of Eight's medics to go with him using Squad 51.
There's nothing doing in Triage here yet. We might not even get any business at all if this fire
stays out of town like it appears that it's doing tonight. DeSoto's got time enough to scuttle
over there to do a welfare check and get back to be our triage commander for any brush fire
evacs afterwards."

"Thank you, sir." Craig sighed, his voice cracking with worry.

"No problem, Brice. We take care of our own, and that includes our families."

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"Speaking of which, this is new. Stoker and Gage still haven't reported in. They went to care for
some horses on behalf of a previous victim of ours. Their HT band registers as open and receiving
but L.A. says there hasn't been any contact made since I ordered status check hails to their radio
at 2009."

"That's odd." Hank frowned.

"Tell me about it. Should we take it to the next level and put out a general search alert to the working
crews? That farm is near the fire hot zone." Brice said.

"It never hurts to cover the bases. Yes." Exasperated, Hank yanked off his white helmet and ran
fingers through his sweaty hair, going full out casual talk mode. "Geez.. What is going on with people,
Brice? Is it Missing Persons night all of the sudden?"

Craig's dead pan expression didn't change. "We can fix that."

Stanley coughed in frustration. He sighed, returning the weight of his command helmet to his head.
He tightened his dangling chin strap."We sure can. Firefighters on a scene are better than bird dogs.
Get it done from your end and I will from mine."

"I will, chief."


"What have we got?" Edward Stone asked DeSoto as he got into Squad 51 at the stationing area
just outside of the brush fire's canyon.

"It's for family." Roy shared, passing over the address to Brice's bungalow apartment to him as he
buckled up in Johnny's seat. "Welfare check on one of our own. Remember Karen Overstreet?"

"Uh huh. I was surprised when I got this squad call. Where's Johnny?" Ed asked as he got into
the cab and buckled up.

"Good question. I think just about everybody wants to know that answer just as bad as I do.
And Stoker was with him." Roy said in disbelief, shifting into gear with lights on but no sirens.

"Doing what?"

"Horsing around. Literally. I mean how can you screw that up? They were just going to feed and
exercise two retired fire horses for an hour or two." Roy's worry was plain.

"Is that place near the fire?" Stone wondered.

The expression on Roy's face said it all.

"Look. It's probably no big deal, Roy." Stone suggested. "If a bit of flames crossed the road no trained
fire horse will cross it.  They probably had to find another road to rein drive down that just took a while."

"Yeah? Well why aren't they answering the radio?  Those ignored call sign hails have been ongoing for
the last hour." DeSoto snapped.

##L.A. to Station 51 Gage and Stoker. How do you read?## prompted the intercom speaker.

"See?" the blond paramedic said, whipping up the squad's mic receiver head in frustration before
hanging it back up again.

"Don't drive angry." Stone said as DeSoto swerved to avoid a fallen cliff boulder on the dirt road they
were traveling to get to the freeway.

"I'm not a--!  I'm... well, I'm getting just a little worried here. Yeah, that's the word. Tardy is Johnny's
middle name some shifts, but Stoker?  He's always far earlier than even the worm every morning."

"It's not morning." Stone grinned.

"No, but it is a fire call. A big one. One that's too big to be late for. And you and I both know that
neither one of them would miss this in a million years."

"You've got a good excuse for chewing your nails, Roy." Stone said soberly.

"Thank you." Roy huffed with exasperation.

Ed lifted his eyebrows and he asked seriously. "Want me to drive?"

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They had arrived.  Stone got out of the driver's seat after neatly parking in front of Craig Brice's
residence property. "Which bungalow?"

"Number Three. To the left." DeSoto responded, grabbing all of their gear.

"Do we need P.D. if the door's locked?" Stone said, snatching up the defib case, drug box, and
an E and J resuscitator.

"Just break it down with a ram. We already have Brice's blessing." Roy replied, shifting his radio's
strap to his wrist so he could carry more equipment.

"What's our medical history?" Stone asked as they hurried for the front door.

"Recent miscarriage. And a pretty intense emotional upset trigger this afternoon according to Dr. Morton."

"A psych crisis... Is she at all suicidal?" Ed asked.

"I don't know, Ed. You know her about as well as I do. I only remember having a heart to heart talk with
her once at the station. As I recall, she seemed fairly sensitive for the work."  Roy replied.

'But she was good."

"After that first day. Yes. Still is, according to Morton."

"All right." Stone said, squaring his shoulders to catch up to DeSoto. "I have to ask this. Are there any
weapons in the house?"

Roy just glared. "Brice hates guns. The answer's no."

"Wigging out is wigging out, Roy. Just saying."

DeSoto paused long enough on the way, to look inside the garage. "There's a car in there and a white
lab coat on the floor. She's home."

"Yeah? Where to first then?"

"Car's isn't running. So not in there." DeSoto replied grimly. "I don't know.. Bathroom? Bedroom? Would
you even think of a specific place after you just snapped?"

"Let's check both places. Then how about everywhere else on property? They got a pool?"  

Roy didn't even answer that one out loud. He just nodded. Pools were practically required features when it
came to living anywhere other than up off of the ground in a high rise in California.


Jim Rockford set his gun down on the ground and turned its muzzle point away from Johnny's face before
he stepped a shoe down on top of it to keep it safely pinned from any flailing limbs. "Hey!" he shouted,
gently slapping Gage on a cheek to try and rouse him. His other hand, placed on his dusty chest,
felt fast breathing. "Buddy? Can you hear me?"

"Is he awake?" asked Sara.

"No, he's out like a light. But it doesn't appear like there are any bullet holes in him." Rockford said back.
"Remember those bloody horses and that antique steam engine? Gotta be his. But I'm not waiting around
to provide any more targets ." The detective waved at her. "Come out here and get my gun. I'm putting him
in the car."

"What about possible broken bones?"

"That fire'll do things far worse if we leave him to go for help. We do know part of his story.  He's a firefighter."

"How do you know that?" Sara said, hurrying over in the dark to retrieve Jim's revolver from the road.

"By his badge." Rockford said. "It's still on his shirt and that spells it out literally. Name's Gage. He's apparently
a paramedic, too, according to this patch."

Jim had opened the rear door of the Camaro and was about to heft Gage inside when a male voice burst out
of the bushes.  ##HT 51 Gage or Stoker, do you read L.A. on your assignment channel?##

"Geez!!" Jim startled, dumping Johnny unceremoniously face down in the back seat and ducking. "What was--
Oh, a radio.. Can you find it?"

"Just did." Butler said, holding it up. "Let's get some help coming."

"First, let's get off this ridge. We're still too close to town. We have no way of knowing if that lunatic who
shot at us there is still close by or not. Jump in back and see what you can do for him while you make that call.
We're leaving." Rockford ordered.

"That dispatcher called out two names. What if this guy's partner was with him? They work in pairs.
He's probably hurt, too, if they were both driving that--"

"I don't see anybody else lying around, Sara, do you? And no, we're not going to look. It's too dangerous."
Jim told her, shooing her in after Johnny, and slamming the rear door shut. "Just tell them we left a lit flashlight
on the road where we found the first guy." He said, throwing theirs onto the ground near the bloody patch
of mud the cuts on Johnny's face had created in the dirt. "We took a very high risk when we stopped for him.
We're still not out of bullet range if that was a rifle shot which shattered my windshield. The shooter might have a
scope and bee lined, watching us right now..,"

"All right, already. You proved your point, Jim. Avoid the bumps if you can, at the very least." Butler
shared. "His blood pressure will thank you."

"It's going down?" Rockford paled, stepping a little harder on the gas as they accelerated back onto
the road.

"Oh, yeah. He's pretty chilled." Butler said, keeping two fingers on the pulse point in Johnny's neck.

"I can fix that." the detective said, turning the heater to roaring. The Camaro sped along the gravel road
as fast as Jim dared to take it. "Roll down a few windows, hon. We'll let this fire cook all three of us
for a little while."

"Where are we headed?" Sara shouted over the roar of the wind. "Gage seems to be breathing okay on
his own."

"Towards those flashing red lights on the ridge. Emergency personnel seem to be gathering there.
I'm driving straight up the hill as the crow flies so we can get out of this smoke." Rockford replied.
"They'll know what to do with this hurt fella faster than we can."

"I'll call them right now on the radio." Sara answered.  "Line of sight transmitting should get through."

"That's my girl, smart as anything." Jim celebrated, eyeing her up in the rear view mirror.
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From:  Patti Keiper <>
Date:  Sun 4/30/2017 7:33 PM
Subject:  Search and Rescue

In town, Station 110 was setting up shop in the parking lot of an emergency
closed grocery store. Their job was to keep brush fire embers floating down
from the canyon above town from igniting the roof tops of buildings.

Already, their tillerman was erecting their aerial snorkle. A younger fireman
on their crew noticed the bullet holes in the windows. "Looters this fast? We
should report this." he said to his hydrant partner.

"They already know." said an older, grizzled blond haired long time firefighter.
He pointed out Vince Howard talking driver's window of a marked black and
white squad, to driver's window with a suit jacketed lieutenant in an unmarked
green Chevy sedan car parked in the shadows, away from the sputtering street
light. "I also see a S.W.A.T. team casing in the alley way."

"Can we trust them to keep us safe?" the rookie asked, not stopping with laying
fresh hose on the ground before their water source valve on a fire hydrant.

"With our very lives, son. They've got a very different kind of fire to put out
tonight. The one which caused all of this." he gestured to the wildfire lipping
out over the ridge. "Someone's murdering hate."

Howard leaned out his car window only slightly, keeping his helmet low over
his eyes for protection. "Looks like he's been here." he said to Lieutenant
Dennis Becker of the L.A.P.D. "Those windows have been shot out, and not so
long ago. Those shards on the ground aren't wet with dew yet."

"He's not in the area. Or the dogs would have been worked up on a hot scent
by now." replied Becker. His nonchalance was full of surety.

Howard took in a deep breath and relaxed his guard a few notches.

"Amazing what they can still do in all of this fire smoke." said Vince. His eye
fell on something on the ground. "Uh, oh. Looks like our arsonist winged
somebody." He got out of his car and drew out his flashlight. "That's fresh
blood." he said, crouching on the pavement. "And a lot of it."

Becker joined him, with his own radio in hand. "Ooo. That's far too much not
to have a body lying around here." he said with alarm.
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##Watch out!## cried an officer on their radio band from the S.W.A.T. team.
##Spooked horses!##

A frothed and blowing Neb and Sally burst around the corner of the alleyway,
dragging what little was left of the steam fire engine behind them, throwing
sparks. The pull axle pole bounced and twisted violently between them.
Lieutenant Becker and Vince Howard threw themselves behind their cars as
the horses staggered by, still crazed by the scent of the gory gush pouring
out Neb's bullet amputated ear stump.

The startled officers quickly regained their composure. "What kind of sick chump
shoots at horses?" Becker retorted.

Vince replied, filing away the evidence in his mind. "Someone pretty lousy at
hitting human targets hopefully."

They climbed to their feet and watched the half block distant firefighters from
Station 110 surround and catch the reins of the frightened fire horses who had
run to the only people they knew they could trust, for help.

Neb, the black fell to his knees briefly before a quickly redirected fire hose of
fanning spray revived him enough to regain his shaky footing. "Keep them on
their feet! Don't let them lie down!" the captain shouted. "They're too hot."

Another firefighter leaped onto his head to tie off the old stallion's spurting
wound with a rag. They blind folded both of the horses to calm them and soon
had them freed from their tangle of broken traces.

It was painful hearing the totally spent, agonized blowing gasps, rocketing in
and out of both of the fire horses' nostrils. Their eyes were rolling, showing their
whites as they fought almost complete exhaustion from their long run. The old
timer firefighter at Neb's head started calming him down. "Easy, boy. I know it
hurts. We'll have a vet and a quiet treatment trailer with cold water to drink
here before you know it." The horrible, steaming hemorrhage from Neb's ear
base, finally stopped with a few deftly tied knots of cloth under his fingers.

"What happened to that ear?" the rookie firefighter asked, keeping up his
cooling spray of water over the horses' trembling whithers, legs and heads to
put out fire embers that he could see that were sticking to their coats and
singeing hair.

Vince answered, shouting across the street. "He was shot! But we're all safe
here. The shooter's moved to a new hiding place because of the fire. The dog
trail's cold."

110's captain got out his hand held the radio. "This old rig and team's gotta be
the one Gage and Stoker's alert bulletin said that they were working with this
afternoon. I'll let the I.C. know they're no longer with them."

"What's this about missing men?" Becker wanted to know, jogging up to the
group of firefighters. Vince pulled his squad car around, joining him.

The rookie replied. "Two firemen out of Station 51's, a paramedic and their

The word out, is that they went to care for these two before being deployed
to our fire.

But they never made it back to Check In. Half of County's looking for them."

Dennis Becker got mad. "Why weren't we informed?!"

"I don't know. Too much going on, too fast?" he replied, with a worried shrug.

"Sloppy." Vince growled. "Especially with a gunman at large. You'd better give
us that address for this hitch team. We'll go check it out and the route these
horses took, running away from the shooter. It can't be good news if Johnny
and Mike are no shows."

"I'll get it." promised the fire captain.
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Sara Butler wrapped the strap of the HT radio around her wrist and began.

"Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is a civilian on a firefighter paramedic's radio.

He's been hurt. We have him in our car and we're headed up to your position on
the ridge. Do you copy?"

A startled reply return transmitted. ##This is Captain Craig Brice. Can you repeat?
Give your location as best as you can.##

"We have Johnny Gage. We found him on the dirt road in the canyon below. He's
unconscious. We see the flashing lights of five emergency vehicles up hill, two
fire engines, a red car, and two smaller trucks."

##That's us. Are you off road?## Brice prompted, grabbing a pair of binoculars
from the engine.

"Yes. In a meadow with a cliff to the south and the fire to the north." she said.

"I and another man are driving straight up to you from the bottom."

##I can't see you yet. Keep your headlights on. I and a few others are coming
down to meet you.## Brice promised. ##What's his condition?##

"He's breathing. Minor cuts, no active bleeding. But there's a large bruise on his
head like someone would get in a fall."

##Understood, miss...## Craig's mind raced. He whirled to Marco and Chet
who had heard the frantic call on the radio and were running back for the engine
from Staging. "Grab a stokes! Throw it onto Deluge Nine. It can handle the
slope! I'm going with you!"

"Music to my ears.." Chet huffed in relief. "Anything on Stoker?"

"No. One thing at a time." Brice advised. "Let's get Gage packaged and
transported before we try for that angle."

Then Brice switched to Battalion's band. "Engine 51 to Battalion Five. Gage
has been found. He's being driven to our location by two civilians. He's alive."

Battalion Chief Hank Stanley only hesitated briefly. ##I'll get a Mayfair there,
pronto. Sending another paramedic unit to you, to intercept, with a biophone
and equipment.##

"10-4, Five." Craig acknowledged.

Eighty yards down the hill, Rockford and Sara met Craig, Marco and Chet in a
cloud of dust and fire smoke between their mutual headlight beams.

Kelly aimed a spot light at the windshield of the Camaro to light up its inside

Jim Rockford threw on his park brake and got out. "Watch yourself! Somebody shot
at us and hit the glass." he said, keeping his gun aimed at the sky in the darkness.
"Might be following us."

"Mr. Rockford?" Chet called out, rushing from the truck with a trauma box and
oxygen supply.

"Yeah... I knew you'd peg me. I sound just like my dad. Hi..." Jim replied, moving
quickly out of range of the light so he could cover the others and regain a little
night vision. "I got our six, keeping an eye out for our trigger happy jerk." he

Brice nodded, keeping low. He ducked into the cover of the shadow the car door
made, as Sara opened it to let him inside. "Gage? Can you hear me?" he urged,
feeling the quality of a carotid pulse at his neck. He was very relieved to feel
some breaths happening under an elbow as he swept his hands down  Johnny's
body, arms, and legs, looking for issues. "Light breathing. Weakish." he shared with his men.
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Johnny's face did not change from slack and pale at a sternal rub.

"He's really out, guys. No reaction to pain." he related to a worried Marco and Chet.
Brice snatched up an oral airway, anticipated and already the right size, from his
shirt pocket and soon, he had it settled between Gage's bloody teeth. "Kelly, aid
him. Push high O2. He's respiratory suppressed."

"Why?" Chet demanded, his voice short and fretting as he quickly set up the

"Hmm... Not from the smoke. It's not thick enough. Hypothermia?" Craig guessed.
"We've some brownie points though. I'm not feeling any signs of fractures."

Sara spoke, not moving Johnny's head from her lap. "No bullet holes either.

I looked. We took a risk moving him."

Chet fired a displeased look at Butler. He couldn't hide it. Kelly controlled his visible
anger by trying not to look at Johnny's cold trembling limbs as he began ventilating
Johnny on the oxygen.

"We had to." Butler defended. "We were still too close to town where our windshield
was shot out."

"That's the truth." Jim said out of the darkness. "We risked our skins getting him."

"Thank you." Brice told them genuinely, still calm and collected and continuing his
hands on, head to toe, exam. "You probably saved his life."

"Tell me another one I don't know. We marked where we found your friend with a
flashlight left on. Maybe his buddy's still nearby in the grass if he got himself just
as banged up. I recommend checking it out later, when it's safe. Move in a S.W.A.T.
team first." Rockford said sarcastically, not liking being back lit by the growing fire.
"Hurry it up, fellas. We're sitting ducks down here. We need to get to high ground
to be 100% sure we're out of this idiot's target range."

"Three minutes, tops." Brice promised, finally closing up Gage's shirt and trousers
once he was done with a quick four quadrant abdominal check. "There's no
guarding, Mr. Lopez. Gage was lucky. No internal injuries or CNS signs of a closed
head injury."

Marco Lopez sighed hugely, and passed over to Sara, a yellow plastic blanket to
spread over Johnny. "Miss, use this. We need to get him warm again. I'll get a
backboard ready. Then on our count, we'll move him into a stokes stretcher to strap
him in."

"Of course." Sara replied. "I-I'll help in any way I can. I ...didn't know that Johnny
was so badly hurt." she said, hastening to complete the task.

"He's not." Craig smiled. "He's just a little tired from fighting getting chilled.

The ground he was lying on was cold even though the surrounding air's brush fire

Chet reported from Johnny's head, where he held a resuscitator mask on manual
supporting feed, snugly over his nose and mouth. "He's at ten and shallow now,
Cap." he said, punching in another breath on an inspiration.

"That's good enough. Let him pull some." Brice nodded. "Let's see how he does
on his own. Mr. Lopez, let's get that C-collar on."

"Why's he still out?" Marco wondered as they carefully applied it together.

"Blow to the head. Scary, but he doesn't test out bad at all. His pupils are equal
and reactive." Craig said, checking them with a pen light. "Ice the bump once we
get to the ambulance, topside." Brice ordered. "He'll snap out of this after a warm
I.V. and some steamed oxygen, I'll just bet."

"Still looks totally messed up. I think he got tossed." Kelly added, shining his
flashlight over Gage's bloodstained head and hands.

"You're right. From the seat. Face cuts are full of gravel. All superficial. He'll clean
up just fine." Brice promised, finally smiling for everyone's benefit. "From what I'm
seeing, he won't even need any stitches. The sooner we get Gage awake and on
the way to Rampart, the sooner we can start our own little active S and R for Mr.
Stoker. I'm bumping us up into that priority."

"Right on, Cap." Chet said, happy with that future plan of action. "Hot d@mn."

"Gracias a Dios!" Lopez grinned in approval.

Two minutes later, Sara and Jim were following the stokes loaded deluge brush
truck up the mountain in the gold Camaro to where an eager crowd of firefighters
were watching and waiting with an open door Mayfair and a new flood of police
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From: Patti Keiper <>
Date: Sat 5/20/2017 5:18 PM
Subject: What's Tricks?

The smoke was a little less dense up where the night wind could sweep it away. The full moon lit their view.

##Condition?## Battalion Five Hank Stanley's radio barked as soon as the Deluge truck halted and began to
unload the wounded paramedic. Even before Brice's feet hit the ground after leaving the rider's cab.

"Stable." Craig answered, keeping his hand on Gage's stokes stretcher while the other firemen carried him to
the waiting ambulance. "Not in danger."

##Any sign of Mike Stoker?##  The worry in Stanley's voice was barely veiled.

Brice shivered. He could practically feel binoculars boring into the back of his head from where Hank stood
on another mountain top.

"Chief, I've two bystanders who have a few ideas and a possible starting point for a search. Request USAR
and P.D. to follow up on it." Craig answered.

##Sending them your way in three.## came Hank's fast confirmation.

"I'll let you know the minute the doctor's through with him, sir."

##Appreciate it, Captain. Battalion Five going off Fire Main.##

Johnny was quickly placed inside of the ambulance and was switched out on his oxygen supply.

Brice sighed happily when he saw that the EMTs had anticipated I.V. heating. Two buckets of
hot water had been set out by the rider's bench waiting for any M.D. ordered solution bags.

Craig knew the paramedic already inside of the Mayfair, who had been assigned to Gage. "Stan, he's cold.
He needed a little lung support, but he's doing fine now. He's got absolutely no intracranial pressure signs.
In spite of the way he looks." he said, pointing to the bloody gauze squares plastered all over Johnny's wet

"Road rash?" asked the experience medic from Long Beach.

"Yep. The bystanders who found him, said the horses he was with, tossed him." Brice told him.
"Thank G*d it was onto a red rock and not an asphalt road. He's a lucky man."

Stan quickly wiped off Johnny's sweat damp chest and patched him in. ""EKG confirms NSR, rapid.
Good call. I'll leave now and start his I.V.'s on the way. Brackett's on the line and he's already authorized
epi and steam venting. The EMTs can dry him off and get him into the hot pack en route. Anything else?"

"He... might wake up frantic. Mike Stoker is still missing." Brice shared, trying not to think of his own
missing girlfriend. ::Karen, why didn't you answer the phone when I called? Now I can't call.:: he thought
to himself as he passed over his notes about Gage's vitals and other signs. "Take these."

Stan took them eagerly, and then the doors slammed shut between them. The Mayfair began its rush ride
to Rampart. Along the road, firefighters hurried out of the way to make a hole for the ambulance to travel
through, then just as quickly, they returned to their brush fire break line work.

Craig Brice was still breathing hard from Gage's rescue and canyon recovery. He leaned over with a hand
on a knee and poured water over his head.  Reseating his helmet, Craig heard the brush fire continue
to strengthen and grow on the valley floor far below.

Chet Kelly and Marco Lopez rejoined their captain. "Is he bad?" Chet asked, his face tight.

"No." Brice replied. "Maybe some plastic surgeon's abrasion care to get all of the r-*cough*rocks out." Craig hacked
in mid sentence. "Ouch. Go detox on oxygen and I'll do the same." he said, feeling the snot tickling in his chest
from the beginnings of smoke inhalation swelling. "The bad smoke's getting thicker. Soon we'll all be in masks
up here in spite of the fresh wind."


"Miss?" spoke Marco, a few minutes later, to Sara Butler.

She glanced up at him from where she sat cross legged on the hood of Rockford's car. "What?" she croaked.
Surprised, she threw a couple of fingers to her throat and tried to clear it.

"Sounds like you've gotten hoarse from the fire. Here, try this." he said, handing out the demand valve
resuscitator he had topped off and changed out after its work on Johnny. "Does your friend sound
like you? From inhaling a bit too much smoke?"  He set the oxygen case down on top of his turnout jacket
so it wouldn't scratch the paint.

"No, he doesn't." replied Jim, accepting an armful of water bottles from a passing aide worker making circuits
through all of the fire crews on the ridge. He began handing them out to everybody present. "Fortunately, I
used to be a chain smoker. Kept me sane while I was serving time. Lungs of iron, son."

Kelly frowned. "I thought you were a private investigator. I'd never have taken you for an ex--" he broke off.

"Ex-con?" Rockford smiled. "Go ahead and say it. Because that's what I was. And before you ask, I didn't kill

"Nope. He was framed." said a new, muffled, amused male voice behind them. "He didn't start killing people,
in self defense cases only, until much later."

Jim whirled. "Angel Martin, as I live and breathe. Did you follow me?! Can't you see there's a fire going on?"

"Yes, you mean the one between you and this sweet new lady?" he winked at Sara and giving a nod of greeting.

"Not that fire. You know the far bigger, big, bad, glowing one eating up the countryside?" Rockford
said, throwing his arms up  and gesturing behind himself, unsuccessfully trying to keep Angel from making
eyes at his new girlfriend.

The young, mid thirties Angel Martin finished kissing the back of Butler's hand in a show of chivalry.
Angel was dressed in tan with a rain slicker and boots. A prominent press badge was pinned to his
chest. The fake pass Rockford eyeballed, looked very convincingly genuine.

"You pick good friends, Jim." winked Sara. Angel Martin's wind wafting cologne scent, just happened to
be one of her absolute favorites. ::Hmm. Old Spice.:: she sighed mentally.

"Took a while, I hate to say. He didn't trust me for the longest time." Martin chuckled, teasing Jim.

"With good reason." Rockford huffed, getting jealous.

"More on that later." Angel blushed, still in full admiring eye contact with Sara. But then he turned his attention
from Butler, to his bestie. "You still owe me ten bucks, buddy boy. It was due yesterday. Not even H*ll nor high
water can keep me from collecting debts owed to me. You ought to know that by now." he laughed. His brown,
beady little eyes sparkled in the fire glow. He let go of Sara's fingers and elaborately bowed to the night
steaming ground. "A verbal agreement on a loan is a verbal deal in stone."

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Jim rolled his eyes, broke out his wallet, and paid the curly haired, shifty eyed, Portugese man.
"All right, I'm calling Uncle. Here you go, Angel. Every stinkin' dime."

Sara giggled at his reaction and finally dropped the oxygen mask back into its case for the next user.
"You gamble?!" she gaped at her P.I. date.

Jim's black eyes flared. "On occasion." he defended.

Chet Kelly and Marco Lopez stayed wall flowers in the background while they self treated on O2.
The gossip mill was getting even juicier than the wild fire.

"Mr. Martin, why I do declare, are you a bookie?" Sara trickled.

Rockford physically got himself between Angel and his girl.
"Nope. Not today he isn't. He's something different than just your very own, ordinary, garden variety street
informer, which is how we met. So what are you masquerading yourself off as today, Angel?" Jim asked.

"I'm a reporter, Jimmy Boy. Worked so well, I got a free chopper ride straight into the middle of all this action.
Man, what a scene!  This is... so invigorating!"  Martin said, expansively spreading his arms against the
backdrop of the roaring flames trying to rise from the depths of the canyon below them. "With your payback,
I can now go out and buy a whole pile of camera film rolls to document Mother Nature at work." he announced
grandly at the top of his voice. "I figure I can sell what I snap to National Geographic or something and clean
up with a whole month's rent!"

"Good luck with that one. In ten minutes, anyone not a firefighter's getting evacuated back to L.A."
Rockford shared. "Us, and my Camaro included. It's getting airlifted out as police evidence."

"Oh, man! Whaaat hhhappened?" Angel gaped, nearly dislocating his neck to get a good glimpse of Rockford's
pride and joy.

Jim grabbed Martin by the shoulders and whirled him back around to face the rest of the group again. "Don't
look! It's not pretty. A bullet hole right through the windshield and into the leather on a back seat."

"Oh, Jimmy.." Angel wilted. "You love that car." he said, his eyes filling with tears that weren't from
the fire smoke.

"She took a bullet for me, Angel. I don't know where I'm going to come up with the money to fix her." he
simpered, looking pathetic and sad. "The guy who owes me two hundred for coming up with a name
just got carted away in an ambulance."

Martin dug into his pocket and returned Rockford's ten dollar bill. "Here. I don't need it this week. Pay me
next week, when you finally get a paying client."

"Aww. Thanks, Angel. This means a lot. It really.." he shot a look at the glaring Sara and quietly stepped
on her foot to shut her up. "..does. I won't forget this." and he meant, it, too.

Butler's forehead creased up in confusion at Rockford's candor with what was obviously a swindle.

"We are good friends." Jim said to both of them, at Sara, to prove he wasn't a con, and to Angel because
already they owed each other, their very lives. It was a bond which had always cemented their relationship
through thick and thin.

::Althought I can't see why he's decided to wade into my particular kind of soup today.:: Jim puzzled.
"Now," Rockford said, putting away his wallet. "There's one man I have to see." The P.I. stepped up to Craig
Brice and waited until he was acknowledged. 'Uh, excuse me, captain, but, if there's a Lt. Dennis
Becker working tonight, he's very good at finding missing people. He used to work in Nam, in the
Special Forces. Take my word for it, he's absolutely the best in the business. I suggest you--"

Craig smiled and held up his radio. "He's already on the way. I did my research, through a friendly to
us, in the L.A.P.D., Officer Vince Howard. They were linked up and in town working together to find a
trail or lead on the arsonist/shooter. I told them about what you did with that flashlight marking the spot
where you found our firefighter, five minutes ago."

"You work fast." Rockford told him, impressed.

"He sure does." Chet groused. "He always gets what he wants once he puts his mind to it. Uh, sir.."
he amended when Brice raised a captain's eyebrow at him. "He looks new to this, but he's definitely

Lopez grumbled under his breath, "He probably chewed on all the procedure manuals from birth."

Brice glanced over while monitoring radio chatter.. "Did you say something? I missed it." he asked.

Marco blushed, but it didn't show in the glow of the fire. "Uh, I said, it looks like the fire's increasing in

"You're right." Craig said, nodding.  "We've got a long fight ahead of us before it's done."

Chet leaned into Marco, whispering. "I hope Stoker's is an non-issue. I sure do wonder about what
might have happened to him."

"Me, too." said Lopez.

Nearby, Jim Rockford started coughing hard.

"Chain smoker, huh?" Sara smirked, pushing him down onto a car bumper so the firefighters could treat
him with their oxygen clean out trick.

"Okay. You pegged me. It was like maybe, ... twenty years ago." Jim wheezed. "I'm.. *hack!* .. fine."
he choked.

"For an old man. Quit acting macho and tough. I'm already yours." she said, smacking him on the
arm. "Now let the nice firefighters fix your lungs. It won't take long."

"Five minutes, tops." promised Chet, getting the mask ready.

Jim Rockford had the grace to grin humbly at his feet.
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